Ralph Lifshitz was born to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Belarus. Despite his father, Frank making a living as a house painter Ralph hoped to acquire a movie star personality. He had heroes such as James Stewart and John F. Kennedy. He was a young entrepreneur selling ties to his class mates in high school. In his DeWitt Clinton High School Yearbook it was stated under his picture that he wanted to be a millionaire. This was in 1957.
57 years later, Ralph Lifshitz would exceed his own expectations as CEO of a $7 billion dollar company and being named in September 2012’s issue of Forbes magazine as the 191 richest person in the world. He is better known by the surname he took at age 16, Lauren.
Ralph Lauren attended Baruch College for two year before dropping out to spend two years in the United States Army. He then briefly worked at Brooks Brothers as a sales assistant before leaving to become a salesman for a tie company. It was at the tie company that Ralph was inspired to design a wide, European necktie similar to one worn by actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. When the idea was rejected by the company as not being commercially viable, Ralph left to set up his company working out of drawer in the Empire State Building. He would take rags and turn them into ties, selling them to the small shops of New York, before he hit his tipping point when Neiman Marcus purchased 100 dozen.
By 1967, Ralph had financial backers and opened a necktie store where among other ties he would sell his own designs under the name “Polo”. Within three years he would open a Polo boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Then released a line of women’s suits tailored in a classic men’s style, these would also be the first appearance of the classic logo which was sewn on the cuff of the women’s suit. The polo would later appear more prominently on a short sleeve pique shirt in 1972, available in 24 colors, it was an instant classic.
Ralph Lauren stands as one of the great stories of perseverance and triumph. It’s been only 57 years since he was peddeling ties in his Bronx High School. Today, as Ralph Lauren celebrates his 75 birthday there are over 35+ boutiques in the United States and the brand is carried by major department stores worldwide.
Happy Birthday Mr. Lauren.